Health officials: Swine flu hitting early

WASHINGTON - (AP)- As the swine flu outbreak strikes the U.S.early and hard, health officials note a worrisome number of childdeaths and warn that supplies of vaccine will remain scarce for atleast the next couple of weeks.

Delays in producing the vaccine mean 28 million to 30 milliondoses, at most, will be divided around the country by the end ofthe month, not the 40 million-plus states had been expecting. Thenew count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meansanxiously awaited flu-shot clinics in some parts of the U.S. mayhave to be postponed.

It also delays efforts to blunt increasing infections. Overall,what CDC calls the 2009 H1N1 flu is causing widespread disease in41 states, and about 6 percent of all doctor visits are forflu-like illness - levels not normally seen until much later in thefall.

Federal health officials said Friday 11 more children have diedin the past week because of the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about halfof the child deaths since September have been among teenagers.

And overall for the country, deaths from pneumonia and flu-likeillnesses have passed what CDC considers an epidemic level.

"These are very sobering statistics," says the CDC's Dr. AnneSchuchat.

This new strain is different from regular winter flu because itstrikes the young far more than the old, and child deaths aredrawing particular attention. Eighty-six children have died ofswine flu in the U.S. since it burst on the scene last spring - 43of those deaths reported in September and early October alone, saidSchuchat.

Fortunately, most people recover from the new strain with simpleat-home care, just as with the regular flu. While there aren'tprecise counts, states have reported more than 2,000 deaths frompneumonia or flu-like illnesses to the CDC since Aug. 30. AndSchuchat said other tracking systems show those deaths have reachedthe level that each year is used to declare an influenza epidemic,months early.

Regular winter flu kills 36,000 Americans a year, and around thecountry some clinics aren't getting shipments of seasonal vaccineas quickly as expected either, as manufacturers juggle the extrawork. About 82 million doses of seasonal vaccine have been shipped,and 114 million eventually will arrive, enough for typical demand,Schuchat said.

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